Reference values and human biological monitoring values for environmental toxins
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This article describes the working principles and working procedures of the Commission on Human Biological Monitoring, which was established in 1993 as a joint commission of the Federal Health Office (Bundesgesundheitsamt) and the Federal Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt) in Germany. One of the main tasks of the commission is to develop scientifically based criteria for the application of human biological monitoring and for the evaluation of human monitoring data in environmental medicine. In principle, two different kinds of criteria are recommended: (a) reference values and (b) human biological monitoring values (HBM values). Reference values are intended to indicate the upper margin of the current background exposure of the general population to a given environmental toxin at a given time. Reference values can be used to identify subjects with an increased level of exposure (in relation to background exposure) to a given environmental toxin. However, reference values do not represent health-related criteria for the evaluation of human biological monitoring data. HBM values are derived from human toxicology and epidemiology studies and are intended to be used as a basis for a health-related evaluation of human biological monitoring data. Usually the commission recommends two different HBM values: HBM I, the concentration of an environmental toxin in a human biological material (usually blood, serum, plasma, or urine) below which there is – according to the knowledge and judgement of the commission – no risk for adverse health effects in individuals of the general population; and HBM II, the concentration of an environmental toxin in a human biological material (usually blood, serum, plasma, or urine) above which there is – according to the knowledge and judgement of the commission and with regard to the environmental toxin under consideration – an increased risk for adverse health effects in susceptible individuals of the general population. The HBM I value can be considered a kind of alert value (from the toxicological point of view), whereas the HBM II value represents a kind of action level, at which attempts should be undertaken to reduce the level of exposure immediately and to carry out further medical examinations. Values between HBM I and HBM II should be considered a warning signal of the need to control the analytical measurement and to reduce the level of exposure of the concerned individual as reasonably as is achievable. At present, reference and HBM values are available for lead in blood, for cadmium and mercury in blood and urine, and for pentachlorophenol in plasma/serum and urine. Reference values have been established for some polychlorinated biphenyls in blood and plasma as well as for hexachlorocyclohexane and hexacholorobenzene in blood as well as for some organochlorine in human milk.
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